What a bunch of bankers

They owe us - and don't let them forget it

Here's an understatement of epic proportions from the Times today:

Bankers at Barclays' investment bank are set to see their pay and bonuses more than double to nearly £250,000 this year as their division reports bumper profits today.

The return of bankers' bonuses is expected to provoke outrage so soon after the meltdown in the financial system, which prompted the worst recession since the Second World War.

"Outrage"? I feel nothing but loathing, hatred and contempt for these people - and as I read the latest research from the respected thinktank, the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR), warning that bonus payments by all banks could hit £4 billion this year, up from £3.3 billion in 2008 and less than a year after the crash, I feel sick to my stomach. It is, as John McFall's Treasury Select Committee and others have pointed out, the greed-fuelled bonus culture that helped cause the financial crisis and subsequent recession, through reckless short-termism and excessive and irresponsible risk-taking.

By the way, if I hear one more supposedly informed person tell me that banks such as Barclays and HSBC are entitled to pay out bumper bonuses and ignore popular opinion because they didn't receive taxpayers' cash, in the form of a government bailout, I think I will scream. The fast forgotten fact is that there would be no banks left standing in this country had the Treasury and the Bank of England not intervened in late 2008, and again in early 2009, to prop up the entire financial sector with significant financial guarantees and a promise that the authorities would never let them fail. One estimate puts the cost to the taxpayer for this wider financial support for the banking system at £1.4 trillion - or £56,000 for every household in Britain.

The BBC's Robert Peston makes a similar point on his blog:

Of course, different banks have required different amounts and different kinds of aid from the state, depending on how reckless they had been in the boom.

But they've all had some succour in the form of taxpayer loans and guarantees - even those like Barclays and HSBC that didn't need to be wholly or partly nationalised.

The banks and the bankers owe us - the taxpayer - for their very survival. We owe them nothing - except, perhaps, eternal contempt for dragging us all into the worst recession in living memory.

 

 

 

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.